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Teaching Money Skills – Part 2


Counting coins and real life money skills

Part 2 of How I Teach Basic Money Skills

((If you’d like to read Teaching Money Skills Part 1, click here!)) 

Part 1 takes us from the very beginning stages of teaching students to work with coins up through basic identification.


If you’re reading these Teaching Money Skills Blog Posts in order, you’ll remember that we’ve gotten our students to the point where they pretty much distinguish each coin based on its size, edge ridges, and how it looks.

At this point, students are ready to start sorting coins. The more quickly they can sort them, the better. We want students to look at a coin and know instantly whether it’s a quarter or a nickel without having to think about it much.

For basic coin sorting, I have a FREEBIE for you! But pretty much any kind of container or sorting mat will work.

Free coin sorting mat

This is one of the coin sorting pads that I offer FREE at my Teachers Pay Teachers Store. There are several different versions, with and without coin denominations for you to assess students and provide plenty of practice to sharpen their skills.

These Coin Sorting Pads can supply you with quite a bit of information about your students’ abilities.

Here’s how I use them in my whole class and small groups:

First, I provide students with a Coin Sorting Pad and a small pile of mixed coins (pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters – no half-dollars), and instruct them to sort them into the correct category. Can the students distinguish a dime from a nickel? You can assess at a moment’s glance if they’re proficient at sorting.

Identify and Assign Value

This is also a great time to assess student ability to identify and assign value to the coins. Can your student identify each coin by name? Is each student able to quickly tell you the value of each coin – quickly and without much thought? If the answer is no, that student needs more practice. We want the identification process to become second nature. We want them to provide that most basic of information without much thought.

Quickly assess a student’s knowledge by informally asking the student to show you a nickel, a quarter, etc. Next, ask questions such as, “Show me a dime,” or “Show me the coin worth five cents.”


poster for teaching monkey skills

Click to view these Counting Dots Mini-Posters

If this is difficult for a student, you will want to add an intervention at this stage. Peer tutoring and computer games can be useful. Students really need to master this skill before moving to the next step.

You may want to back up to the Coin Sorting Pads again and have students sort coins while comparing the coin to a picture or poster. As they place a dime on the Sorting Pad, they can say, “A dime is ten cents,” or “A penny is one cent.” Multi-sensory learning is vital at this basic stage. Reference posters are helpful as well, providing additional comfort and reassurance for students.

coin counting dots drawn onto the coin poster
These simple posters are sold in my store. You can choose the Mini-Posters with Counting Dots or the Mini-Posters without Counting Dots. As you can see in the picture above, I printed the posters without Counting Dots, laminated them, then drew the Counting Dots on with dry-erase markers. As my students progress, I can erase the counting dots whenever students have them mastered.

Mini-poster reference cards
The picture above features Student Reference Rings made from the Mini-Poster Set. I always have sets of Reference Rings with Counting Dots and several sets without. That’s an easy way to differentiate for my students. The worksheet above is from the Coin Counting Dots Worksheet Set.

Because students enjoy “playing” with money manipulatives, it’s been pretty easy for me to allow students to work together in small groups or with a partner to practice. However, this instruction does need to be differentiated to a degree. Depending on the activity, you may want to pair a proficient student with a struggler for help and peer tutoring. On the other hand, you don’t want the proficient student doing all of the work for the struggler. With a bit of guidance, students are typically very cooperative about helping their peers learn money skills. After just a few minutes of brief guidance, your proficient students will usually enjoy working with their peers on these skills.

Once you’re sure students can name the coins and their values, you’re ready to tackle coin counting!

Basic Coin Counting

Before students can begin to count mixed coins, they should be proficient at counting coins of the same denomination. In fact, it’s so important, I’ll say it again – It’s very important to start with a Single Denomination.

Single Denomination Coin Counting

I start with pennies. Students should be able to count pennies fluently with one-to-one correspondence. This may take struggling students extra practice. As you assess students counting pennies, make sure that they don’t become so rote with their counting that they begin miscounting. It’s not unusual for students to count faster than they point to coins.

I try to solve this problem by setting pennies in one pile on the table. I ask my student to slide the penny from that original pile across a small distance to start a new pile as he counts them. If the student miscounts, I count along with him to guide his counting. If you can’t establish one-to-one correspondence, I’d take a step back and use larger counters, like the plastic teddy bears or even pencils.

After pennies, I move on to nickels. For proficient students who are able to skip count, this is another fairly easy step, but this is where you will discover which students are still struggling with skip counting.

This is a great spot to review the hundreds chart and number lines. My small group made number lines and we practiced placing nickels on the fives. We then skip counted and noticed how much faster it is getting from one end of the number line to the other when we skip count by fives as opposed to counting by ones.

At this point, we begin counting nickels by moving a single nickel from the beginning pile to a new pile as we count by 5’s. Again watch for the one-to-one correspondence.

This may be a great place to introduce Counting Dots to students. These are small dots that provide a concrete place for students to touch on each coin. Every coin has a specific place for students to touch and count. I a student can count by 5’s, he can count money with counting dots!

We know that struggling students often do better when they have a visual representation and/or a concrete visual. Check out the picture below for how I arrange the Counting Dots.
coin counting dots practice cards

I hang the visual reference posters in my classroom and provide small reference rings to my struggling students. I’ve found that students love the reference rings, and mine all want a set of their own.

I’ve also got quite a few resources for sale at my Teachers Pay Teachers Store. If you’re in need of a resource and I don’t have it available for you, send me a quick email, and I’d LOVE to add it to my list of resources!

Coin counting dots to teach money skills
I draw Counting Dots on my plastic classroom coins, and I strongly encourage my strugglers to use them. What I really like about the Counting Dots is that they can be used anywhere, and they’re discreet – students can learn to use them without the actual dots being on the coins. They can use them without drawing attention to themselves.

Eventually, the Counting Dots can fade away when students don’t need to rely on them anymore. They won’t need the dots drawn on, they just touch the spot on the coin where the dot would be as they count.

Mixed Denomination Coin Counting

Proficient students can move on to the next step. Slip the blank Coin Sorting Pads into a plastic page protector sleeve. With a dry erase marker, you (or they) can write a different coin amount on the plastic page protector for each section and ask students to make that amount.

free coin sorting mat

Click on the picture for the FREE sorting mats!

Start easy, and build on the skills. For example, start with a small group of two kinds of coins. Ask students to make 15¢. This will quickly tell you basic skills levels of each student. For example, is the student able to combine a nickel and a dime, or does she immediately want to count out 15 pennies? If there are no pennies, can she do it? This is where students need to practice, practice, and practice!

counting money games for student learning

Money Games to make learning fun!

Create more complex tasks as your students improve their skills. Students can work with task cards, and build up to playing games, like “I Have, Who Has.”

((Shameless plug ? – If you have some struggling students, I encourage you to check out my Counting Dots Bundle of Resources in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store. Simply click the above link or just visit my store and click on the category for “Money Resources” along the left side of the store.))

Continue to build on student skills by changing the coin amounts, and the amount of coins you provide them to sort.

teaching money skills by using games

What about paper money? I’ve found that once students are able to fluently count coins, they’re able to transfer those skills to paper money. Paper money seems to excite students – they know they’ve made it to the big bucks! And they LOVE feeling grown up working with larger dollar amounts.

resources for teaching money skills

Final Tips

  • Make learning as visual and concrete as possible – use posters, reference rings, Counting Dots
  • Model how you count money – with and without Counting Dots
  • Practice skip counting over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over . . .
  • Practice every day in different ways – computer games, classroom money, coin rubbing, Coin Sorting Pads, games, stations, etc.
  • Include parents! Most parents will enjoy involving their students when making a purchase and counting money.

What are some strategies and hints that you use in the classroom?

I’d love to get an email from you – and I’ll be sure to answer you. – email me today and tell me how I can help you and your students.